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Science, Grade 6


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Study Guide Earthquakes Science, Grade 6

EARTHQUAKES The theory of plate tectonics describes the movement of the plates of the lithosphere relative to each other. This movement creates forces that push and pull on the crust. Crustal rock can absorb and store energy, but only so much. There is a point at which the stress is more than the rock can hold and the rock breaks. When the rock breaks, the stored energy is released and this energy travels through the Earth. This sudden release of energy created when rocks break is called an earthquake. The point in the crust where the rock first breaks to create an earthquake is called the focus of the earthquake. The point directly above the focus on the surface of the Earth is called the epicenter. Following a true earthquake event there can be smaller earthquakes that occur near the original earthquake focus. These aftershocks are smaller in magnitude than the original earthquake. Lesson Checkpoint: What do we call the point in the Earth’s crust where the rock first breaks to create an earthquake? Types of Stress Acting on Rocks Stresses are created whenever one mass of rock moves relative to another. When two tectonic plates are pushing toward each other, compressional stress deforms and breaks the rocks. Folded mountains are a typical result of compressional stress. When two plates are moving away from each other, tensional stress is created which creates faults that allow blocks of crust to move down relative to one another. Plates can also slide past one another. This creates transform faults, which also creates stress on both plates. Lesson Checkpoint: Name and describe one type of stress on the rock and plates of the Earth. © Copyright NewPath Learning. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted for the purchaser to print copies for non-commercial educational purposes only. Visit us at
Faults When rocks break and there is movement on a plane (that is, a surface), the surface formed by the plane is called a fault. When a fault forms, one block is above the fault and the other is below the fault. The block above the fault is called the hanging wall. The block below the fault is called the footwall. When the hanging wall moves up relative to the footwall, a reverse fault is formed. A reverse fault in which the fault is at a very shallow angle is called a thrust fault. When the hanging wall moves down relative to the footwall, a normal fault is formed. When two blocks slide past one another, a transform fault is formed. Lesson Checkpoint: What are the two parts of a fault? Types of Seismic Waves When rock breaks, the energy that was stored in the rock is released in a single, massive event. The energy travels through the Earth, rolling and shaking the crust. This event is known as an earthquake. The energy is released in the form of energy waves. © Copyright NewPath Learning. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted for the purchaser to print copies for non-commercial educational purposes only. Visit us at
There are three different types of energy waves (seismic waves) released by an earthquake. P-waves or primary waves are the first energy waves released. They are the fastest of the seismic waves and can travel through solids, liquids, and gases. Because they are the fastest seismic waves, they are the first waves to be measured by a seismograph. P-waves are pulse waves that move rock back and forth, first compressing then stretching the rock. P-waves S-waves or secondary waves are the second type of waves created by an earthquake. S-waves are slower than P-waves and therefore arrive at a seismograph after the P-waves. S-waves are also called shear waves because they travel in an S pattern through the rock, creating shear stresses. S-waves can travel through solids, but they cannot travel through liquids. The disappearance of S-waves at the outer crust/mantle boundary is what indicates the outer core is liquid. The slowest and most destructive seismic waves created by an earthquake are called surface waves. Surface waves travel along the surface of the Earth’s crust in a circular motion. They are the most destructive of the seismic waves because they shake the surface of the Earth up and down. © Copyright NewPath Learning. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted for the purchaser to print copies for non-commercial educational purposes only. Visit us at
Surface waves Lesson Checkpoint: Which type of seismic wave is the most destructive? How Are Earthquakes Measured? Earthquakes are measured by machines called seismographs. The different seismic waves are measured and recorded on a paper or drum (or as a computerized image) called a seismogram. The first up tick on a seismogram records the arrival of the P-waves. The next significant up tick is the arrival of the S-wave. The most significant and dramatic waves recorded are the surface waves. The seismogram also records the times at which the different waves arrive. Knowing the differences in the times of arrival of the different waves can be used to calculate the distance from the seismograph to the location of the earthquake’s epicenter. Readings from three different seismographs are needed to determine the epicenter of an earthquake. The information from the seismogram can determine the distance from the seismograph to the epicenter, but it can’t determine the direction. The intersection of three circles, representing three distances from the epicenter to the seismograph stations, can determine the location of the epicenter. © Copyright NewPath Learning. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted for the purchaser to print copies for non-commercial educational purposes only. Visit us at
The strength of an earthquake is recorded on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is the mildest and 10 the strongest and most destructive. This measurement scale was developed in 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg and is called the Richter Scale. It is a base 10 logarithmic scale. Consequently, a magnitude 5 earthquake is over 900 times more powerful than a magnitude 3 earthquake. Lesson Checkpoint: Readings from how many different seismographs are needed to find the epicenter of an earthquake? Earthquake Damage and Safety Damage to buildings, structures, and infrastructure is caused by the rolling surface waves. The damage seen here in the famous magnitude 8 San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was only partly from the earthquake itself. The complete destruction of the city was due more to the fact that the earthquake broke the water pipes so firemen could not fight the fires. The city burned to the ground. Modern engineering techniques are attempting to limit such earthquake damage. Surface waves cause the surface to literally rise and fall. As the ground moves, buildings twist and deform and fall over: the earthquake shakes the “feet” out from under them. Construction engineers are using advanced techniques to minimize, and hopefully eliminate, such structural damage caused by earthquakes. This not only reduces damage and the costs related to that damage, but more importantly it reduces the chances of injury and death. For example, engineers have constructed buildings that are attached to the ground with shock absorbers that are made out of rubber and steel. The shock absorbers take the energy of the earthquake and limit the amount that actually shakes the building. People who live in earthquake-prone areas need to learn to take precautions and make safe decisions during an earthquake. Those who are outside must stay outside, away from buildings and structures. Those who are inside are advised to stand in doorways or crouch under a table in the middle of a room (that is, away from the walls) to avoid injury from falling ceiling and wall material. © Copyright NewPath Learning. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted for the purchaser to print copies for non-commercial educational purposes only. Visit us at
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